‘They Aren’t Who You Think They Are’

The first thing you need to know about Pete Newman is that people loved him. He has olive skin, dark hair, and thick eyebrows that generated good-natured “unibrow” teasing. Girls wanted to date him, guys wanted to be him, and children wanted to follow him.

He was a camp director at Kanakuk Kamps, one of the largest Christian camps in the world. Kanakuk is an immense operation. Since its founding in 1926, it claims to have served more than 450,000 campers. Its main campus is located outside of Branson, Missouri, but it has international reach. Every summer approximately 20,000 kids pass through its gates, and the institution is particularly prominent with the Evangelical elite. 

Newman was the camp’s rock star. A person who went to Auburn University with Newman said, memorably, “If Jesus and Pete walked into a room, I’m not sure who the kids would have worshiped.” “Pete Newman is the most thorough relationship builder with kids in Kanakuk history,” Kanakuk chief executive officer Joe White once said. “This guy has a raging love for God and it spills over constantly to the kids at kamp.”

White himself has long been a popular, charismatic figure in American Evangelicalism. (We reached out to White, and he declined to comment.) He has inspired intense devotion from campers, employees, and parents. Outside of camp, he’s known for a particular and vivid public presentation where he builds and carries a cross on stage to illustrate the crucifixion of Christ. The example below comes from a 2015 convocation at Liberty University:

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